Badminton targets August 11 resumption, India players unhappy

International badminton, frozen since mid-March because of the Covid-19 pandemic, is scheduled to resume on August 11 with the Hyderabad Open. Badminton World Federation (BWF) announced a revamped calendar for the year on Friday with several tournaments cancelled or rescheduled.

The calendar aims to pack in 22 tournaments in five months with the season-ending World Tour Finals in Guangzhou from December 16-20. India will host two more tournaments, Syed Modi India International (Nov 17-22) in Lucknow and India Open, originally scheduled in March, in New Delhi from Dec 8-13.

Global badminton came to a standstill after the All England championships in mid-March. Among the 10 events cancelled are the Singapore Open and Badminton Asia Championships. The German, Swiss and Australian Opens have been suspended and await ‘suitable replacement dates’.

India chief coach, Pullela Gopichand, said a lot of work had to be done to even resume training.

“It’s a packed calendar. With all the travel restrictions and precautions to be taken, it will be tough. We’ll go by what our association (BAI) and state government says. Telangana have a lockdown till the month end and have a clear directive that no sports activity should resume till further notice. We have a plan but will have to wait and see if the state government opens the stadia on June 1. It is good SAI has made it (standard operating protocols) clear and we’re ready to resume practice but only after the green signal from the government,” he said.

Indian players criticised the new schedule.

“This is a stupid schedule. People are saying ‘reduce travel’ and we’ll be doing the opposite,” India’s top men’s player B Sai Praneeth said. “How can someone schedule tournaments from August? Nobody has started full-fledged training. Some countries haven’t even started practice and 22 continuous tournaments in 5 months!”

The world No.13 said the calendar would be too much even in normal times. “Whatever you cancelled, you’ve added in these five months; it’s not correct. BWF has to think about Olympic qualification first.”

BWF said: “It is a condensed calendar but we are confident this provides the framework to allow us to start again when it is safe and logistically possible,” BWF secretary general Thomas Lund said in a statement. “At this point, it’s difficult to predict when international movement and entry restrictions will be lifted by individual countries and territories, but we will not resume competition unless it is absolutely clear that is safe to do so.”

Chirag Shetty, the world No.10 doubles pair with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, said: “For players to come from different parts of the world will be difficult. I was thinking they might start in October as the Covid-19 cases are on the rise in India.”

The 2014 Commonwealth Games champion Parupalli Kashyap was anxious. “What about regulations relating to quarantine, immigration and international flights? Will we be quarantined in the country holding the tournament and at home on return?”

Some academies and national centres in China, Taiwan, France and Denmark have allowed resumption of training in batches with strict precautions. In India, union home ministry has cleared sports in stadia but SAI and federations are working out the finer aspects of resuming training.

“Right now there’s no assurance whether we will start training tomorrow or a week later as cases are still increasing here,” said Kashyap.

Shetty said 45-day training, a month to regain fitness and 15 days to get into tournament mode, would be ideal. “We can’t rush into things. When someone is injured, they can take it slowly. Since our bodies are fit, when we get to the court we feel like we can go and play; that’s when chances of getting an injury increases.”

Olympic bronze medallist, Saina Nehwal, said tennis officials have not scheduled tournaments until October. HS Prannoy tweeted: “Could have kept a few more and made it 25 instead. Good job.”

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